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Saltwater flat fishing has a thrill which is incomparable. Hooking robust and fine varieties of fishes like tarpon, bonefish, permit and snook is every fish lover’s dream come true. Fly fishers are often greeted with enthralling number of game fishes, in the warm shallow and fertile flats of Bahamas, Belize and Roatan.

The Prized Catch

Anglers are always on the lookout for something which can give their ego a boost and generate a sense of accomplishment. The island waters and shallow coasts of tropical seas are proud homes for some enchanting marine life.

Bonefish

Bonefish or the Ladyfish is known for its agility and strength. Fly fishing for this fish is a very popular sport in tropical areas like the Bahamas. A perfect way to have a stimulating bonefish fishing experience, is to wade in the tropical waters or the mud flats and get these valiant creatures standing enchantingly at 8.6kg average weight and 41in height.

Tarpon

If one is looking for a venturesome game and wants to show his/her heroic side, hunting tarpons is the way to go. These fish put up a great fight with their hunters and thus are amidst the most favoured game species. A common occurrence in the coastal waters which exhibit warm climate, these fish attract lot of anglers to the Bahamas and Belize. Tarpon are also found in abundance around the docks and inlets around Florida- there are some real monsters out there.

Snook

Valued for their vivacious nature and their ability to give a thrilling fly fishing experience, snook are the common inhabitants of the Atlantic and Pacific region. Ranging from 1.5 to 5 feet, these silvery fish are delectable as a food choice and a rousing reward for the daredevil fish hunter. Pitching baits and waiting for the right current is the best way to capture these inshore marine delights.

Permit

Punta Gorda in Belize and Roatan in Honduras is the Mecca for anglers who wish to lay their hooks on to the sprawling game fish, Permit. These fish are found in abundance in brackish waters and near the shores. They look distinct with their anal and dorsal fins (usually sticking up on the hunt for crab) and can be caught by using small live crabs as baits. Use of a proper spinning rod, a compact reel and varied line choices ensures a sure shot catch. Permit are very weary and easily spooked hence a permit is on every good anglers list.

Salt Flats and the Prevalent Fishing Techniques

Saltwater flats is any shallow water area pertaining to the depth between 2 feet to 10 feet located in tropical areas. Game species like tarpon, permit, bonefish and snook can be readily spotted in these flats. The quantum would depend on the tidal flow, food availability, underwater cover and water temperature.

Catch the fish

There are 3 modern methods using rod and line to catch these game fish:

  • Fly Fishing
  • Live or Dead Bating
  • Spinning or Lure fishing (non fly method)

The practice of using fishing rod and an artificial bait to catch game fish is commonly known as fly fishing. To undertake this sport perseverance, patience and knowledge about the behaviour of the fishes along with skill and technique is quintessential. You can use dead crabs and wait for the exciting take from a permit. Lure fishing with a make believe fish containing the hook is an effective method for some species on the feed. Depending on the species and your skill and experience you would choose a method from the above.

Find the fish

  • Wading
    This is one of the most calculated and swift methods of catching fishes in flats. The fishes here are very sensitive to any movement. It is thus important to make stealthy movements which do not create a stir. First step would involve identification of the area where fish population is dense. Next move is to glide through the water to the designated spot followed by setting the bait in place and rooting the drag in a sturdy manner if live baiting. If Fly Fishing commencing to drop the fly right next to the fish.
  • Poling
    The most productive method of catching fishes in the flats is undoubtedly poling. In this method once a large school of fishes is spotted by the poller (who generally stands on the raised poling platform), the intimation is sent to other anglers. These anglers who are standing, then fish the location.
  • Stalking
    Predictions of an experienced fisherman, his study of patterns and behaviour is what can fetch the best results. Staking is a method which solely depends on the study of fish patterns and behaviours. The fly fishers who are looking for a good catch, would generally park their vessels in an area where the movement of these fishes is seen over a period of time and then catch them. An amount of wading might be needed.
  • Chumming
    Another common method of catching fish (mostly bait fish) while you are visiting the saltwater flats can be chumming. In this technique the fishes are lured towards the anglers by using the smell of chum mix. Then when you see signs of smaller bait fish arriving you cast your net- and with luck catch some fish to use as bait. These baits are streamed/presented in the water thus leading to a good catch.

Seasons for the Best Game

As discussed these game fish are very sensitive to climatic changes and would often migrate to warmer waters or near the shores in the winter season and vice-versa. To make the most out of your fishing expedition, it is thus essential to adjudge when is the right time to seek this marine thrill.
Bonefishes, for instance, will be plentiful if one visits Bahamas from October to early June. A visit in rainy seasons can be a big disappointment, as these fishes like clear sunny weather. Belize on the other hand would please a bonefish lover from March to August. Belize is rightly christened as the permit capital of the world. March to August is the best season when one can find a number of Belize fish waiting to give anglers a good fight. The ‘Silver King’ amidst fishes, the tarpons, can be seen doing their famous acrobatic stunts between October and July, making it the best season in Belize to catch them. The tricky permit fishes with their accentuated sight, smell and hearing capabilities are very hard to catch. But the months from February to July gives the game seekers in Roatan, a fair chance to fight for this prized possession.

Taking note of the best hunting seasons for the brag worthy saltwater flat fish, helps game seekers in fulfilling their adventurous streak.

Pointers to Ponder Upon

There are a number of legal restrictions and rules which have been attached to fishing, in order to preserve the marine heritage. The knowledge and adherence to these laws is necessary for all individuals looking forward to game fishing.

  • In Belize the “Catch and Release” regulation is practised. No individual or establishment can possess a permit, tarpon or bonefish, once caught for game they need to be released immediately. 
  • In Bahamas spear guns and spearfishing is strictly prohibited.
  • Using scuba equipment to catch fish underwater is also a punishable offence in Bahamas.
  • A person not from Bahamas needs a fishing permit to fish in Bahamian waters.
  • In the bountiful island of Roatan, there are specific seasons for protection of particular marine life. These seasons should be checked in advance to avoid landing in Roatan when fishing is restricted for your coveted interest.

To make the trip holistic and hassle free take note of all these laws and follow a righteous route to fly-fishing.

Hazards to Look Out For

Fishing in the saltwater flats can create lifelong memories,but there are some hazards in these areas which if not taken care of can mar the entire experience.

  • Since the sun is at its blazing best in most of the flats, it is always advisable to wear protective gears, in the form of hats, sunscreen and sunglasses. Sunglasses in shades of tan having side shields give protection from the sun and also make for amazing visibility.
  • Sea is full of hidden dangers. While wading one might accidentally step on a stingray, coral or a shell and get injured. To prevent such situations, it is best to wear wading shoes or sneakers.
  • If you have the tendency of getting sick in water, make sure you carry necessary medications. As fly fishing can take hours of patience and work.
  • Keep yourself hydrated, as the sun can drain out bodies moisture and cause grave consequences.

Book It in Advance

Fly fishing in flats whether it be in Bahama, Roatan or Belize requires both preparations and precautions. The best way to go about it, is to book a package with the various fishing charter and excursion companies which are operating in these areas.

  • A good vessel is an important requisite in fly fishing. A vehicle which is soundless and has all safety features should be picked. All one needs, is to compare the prices online and book the vessel according to the number of anglers.
  • On an average, a good boat which has all features would cost you around $200 for a day. There are many budget options where small fishing boats are available for $100 per day. 
  • The trip organizers provide you with experienced and knowledgeable guides who are licensed to undertake fly fishing.
  • Most of the time the paperwork relating to fly-fishing permission is also undertaken by the excursion company you plan to associate with.

Since these areas are squirming with people in the season time, if the booking is not undertaken in advance one might not be able to get the best spot and guide. So book your excursion at the earliest and enjoy the thrills that fly fishing and lure or even bait fishing in the saltwater flats has in offering.